The lay of the land in the NHL, as Islanders head coach Barry Trotz likes to put it, is that teams go through personnel changes during every offseason.
But the Islanders are a rare case. A majority of the team has been playing together for years. There are 17 players on the current roster — 11 of whom actually played this postseason — who were on the team in 2017-18, before Trotz became head coach. Even going back to 2013-14, eight players from that season’s roster are still with the team and six played major roles in their postseason run to the Stanley Cup semifinal in Josh Bailey, Matt Martin, Brock Nelson, Scott Mayfield, Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas.
It’s what made the Islanders’ Game 7 loss to the Lightning on Friday night all the more difficult to accept: The Islanders know they are potentially facing some significant changes in the locker room.
Cizikas is the headlining player among the Islanders’ six pending unrestricted free agents this summer, a group which also includes Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac, Andy Greene, Cory Schneider and Brayden Coburn.
“I haven’t thought about it too much personally, but that’s a conversation for another day,” Cizikas said during the Isles’ exit interviews on Sunday. “I think, right now, I’m just focused on being with the guys, spending these last few days before everyone heads their own way, spend them together, do things together. I think that’s what I’m looking forward to right now.”
Having spent his entire 10-year NHL career on Long Island, Cizikas acknowledged that he expects the friendships he’s made to last a lifetime. Cizikas has posted 81 goals and 104 assists in 590 games with the Isles, but the 30-year-old has been at the center — literally — of the team’s most valued line, the Identity line, with Matt Martin and Cal Clutterbuck.
The trio has forged one of the most effective fourth lines in the NHL, but is also one of the most expensive. Clutterbuck is set to become a UFA after next season when his five-year, $17.5 million deal expires, while Martin just signed a four-year, $6 million contract in January. Cizikas is the first to face a potential departure.
“I almost feel like he’s just a part of me as a hockey player at this point,” Clutterbuck said.
Added Martin: “I think I know where his heart is and I think the team would love to have him back as well.”
While it’s unlikely that both Palmieri and Zajac can re-sign with the Islanders because of the cap situation, the two trade-deadline acquisitions from the Devils made it clear how much they enjoyed their time with the organization. After racking up seven goals and two assists in 19 playoff games, Palmieri has probably earned himself a significant payday that the Islanders won’t be able to afford.
“Even if it was for that short bit, I’ll remember it forever,” Palmieri said.
Greene, who will turn 39 shortly after next season begins in October, said he wants to continue playing and alluded to his hopes of remaining with the Isles.
There are also three Islanders who are pending restricted free agents with arbitration rights in Adam Pelech, Anthony Beauvillier and rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin. With Pelech, the team’s top-pair defenseman with Ryan Pulock, one season away from reaching UFA status, the Islanders will have to weigh their options and decide how long they want to lock him down.
Beauvillier, 24, is coming off a two-year deal with an annual cap hit of $2.1 million.
“Obviously, I want to stay here and have the group stay together,” he said. “We have this special bond here.”